My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Renewal Time on National Bison Refuge

We're getting all kinds of babies here on the bison range. Some of them we've seen and some of them are still hidden. The bison babies started arriving in April, a few weeks before got here. A few have just been born within the last week.  At least two of them were born very near the road to the delight of several visitors. Bison babies are born a bright orange- brown color and retain it for only two months.  So its easy to spot the youngest calves.

This calf is probably less than a week old
The proghorn antelopes are getting rounder and rounder. A few of them have already "popped" out babies. I was fortunate to get a picture of the first baby. But I haven't gotten to see a brand new baby.  A couple came in  to the Visitor Center a few days ago, and I gave them the spiel about the auto tour.  I always tell people who ask how long it will take that it will take and hour and a half to two hours to drive it but you will be there as long as you are willing to stop and look.  Then I tell them about where we are seeing the various mammals, birds, and blooming flowers. I also tell them, the more you stop and look, the more you will see. Stop often and use your binoculars because animals can be so far away, you will never notice them while moving.

The couple came back all excited because they had seen - and taken pictures of - a newly born pronghorn antelope. They reported that when they spotted it, the mother was licking off the afterbirth.  They watched the baby get to it's wobbly feet the first time and hunt down a nipple. Then three does came over and all sniffed the baby.  The baby tried to follow one of these does instead of its real mother. The mother had to go after it and get it to follow her. The told me," This was all because of what you told us."  So I guess they did follow my instructions to stop often and look lots.

At first the baby pronghorn looked like it was struggling to keep up

But seconds later it was running ahead

The same day I saw the baby antelope, I found this trio waiting for mom to come back and nurse them.  They are Colombian ground squirrels.  Their den was right in the road.  I saw the mother leave and one little head stay behind. After I stopped to take pictures of them, several other cars also did. One baby was super bold and stayed out a lot.  The second one would shortly follow the bold one's lead.  But the third one was really shy and would run back in the burrow at the slightest provocation and mostly stayed hidden. These squirrels are here in in much smaller numbers than were the Belding's ground squirrels at Malhaur NWR. 

Colombian ground squirrels just starting to check out the world outside their den
Birds all seem to have nesting on their minds or already be raising babies.  Robins, western and mountain bluebirds, and tree swallows, kestrels, and red-tailed hawks are bringing food to babies. Other birds, like the vesper sparrow and the catbirds are setting up territories and singing their heads off to defend them. Male Bullock orioles are competing for females - I've seen a couple of them at a time chasing after a female.

The vesper sparrow has a really beautiful song and sings it over and over. 

Western bluebird dad is busy bring in food

All the big-horned sheep babies are on the ground - about sixty of them - but we don't see them from the tour. A researcher was living at the bunkhouse for several weeks.  Each day he tried to find any big-horn sheep babies that had been born in the last couple of days.  They can't run and he could capture them, notch their ears so he could identify them, and collect some DNA samples. He knows the genealogy of each kid that he has caught. But we are getting very distant views of the rams when they climb over the mountain to the side nearest the auto tour road.

And the elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer should be birthing but we haven't seen any babies from them yet.

Tuesday I started working on the bee survey project. I'm to head it up and figure out what we are doing, how we are doing it, and what materials we'll need,  I also have to figure out where we can buy each item, how much we'll need and about what it will cost. I'm also collecting questions to ask of the pollination coordinator.

I'm so glad I can get other people interested in helping our most important pollinators survive.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Virtual Walk to Work

I live in the bunkhouse, on a street with two more houses.  I'm very safe because our Law Enforcement Officer  lives next door and our Assistant Project Manager lives in the second house down. A third house is on the intersecting road and the barn and maintenance area is beyond that house. The Visitor Center is up and over the hill so our area is not visible from the main road.

Last Tuesday, I was in a hurry and decided to go up and over the hill.  There is a little canal that runs behind our house and off the refuge and is used for irrigation in the area. Behind the next house over is a little footbridge to cross it.   Here are pictures I saw along the short, but steep route.

This is the little canal behind my house where I start my walk

I walk past a Macintosh apple tree and this lilac bush 
Through a gap in the vegetation behind the houses, I can see the house and  barn on a cross street

This is the long view from just before the bridge, over the roof of the 2nd house  from me
In fifty yards or so, I reach the foot bridge

Then it's time to start my climb

I think I'll make it to the top when I see mountains behind this hill

Soon I can see part of the auto tour area

And to the right, our visitor  center which is nestled into the next hill. 

 When I have more time, I can walk along the canal until it crosses under the road, and then walk the last quarter or mile or so up the road. Or I can walk the roads all the way or even detour through the nature trails. So I can get to work in ten minutes or take over an hour, especially if I have my camera and/or binoculars with me. It took me 1.5 hours to come home on Monday because I started chasing bees and butterflies. It's a bad day when I have to take my car because I need to haul some stuff  to or from the bunkhouse. Then the trip is over too soon and I don't get to enjoy the views and the wildlife. One day, as I was walking along the canal on a little ridge, I looked down to see a young white-tailed buck with velvet horn knobs looking back at me.  I was carrying my white hat and swinging it, but even that didn't disturb him and he just kept lying there and looking at me.  M camera was backed in my backpack and was afraid to disturb him so didn't get his pictures.  But I expect he may use that area regularly so  I'll go check back for him.

I'm editing this blog on Tuesday night.  I'm just back from my 2nd day of getting to close the Auto Tour route. Yesterday, I  took another volunteer, Kyle,  with me.  We have to close the lower gate to the auto tour, go around the tour to push anyone out that is staying too long.  Then, after 9:30 P.M., when the front gate closes, we have to reopen the interior gate to the Auto Tour, so people can start enjoying it at 6:30 A.M.  Of course, we can do this as slowly as we want and we get to look for the bison, antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and elk, coyotes, and black bear. Yesterday we have great views of close by bison, as well as some beautiful clouds over the Mission Mountains range. Tonight we had several storms earlier, but it cleared up and I saw my first bear.  AND he was climbing a hill that was completely empty except for one tree.  It would have been a tremendous picture, IF my battery had been charged.  Either I mixed up the batteries or the camera somehow got turned on.

Our final volunteer, Kyle, arrived Sunday to join me and the other volunteer, Will.  Both are young guys from   Florida who work for a group that contracts out young people to various agencies. The fourth housemate is law officer in training. He will only be here a few more days. But I'm enjoying working with the guys.  And they have to act like they enjoy me since I have the only car.

Bison among the arrowleaf balsomroot blooms

Sunset light on clouds over Mission Mountains

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Farewell Paddle on the South Llano River

I ended my stay in Texas with a farewell trip to South Llano River State Park.  I birded, hiked, visited and finally paddled with various friends of a group of sixteen.  I've blogged about that trip here.  I birded all the way to the put-in and then had to wait on the rest of the group to arrive.

Summer tanager

Red-eyed vireo "preaching"
Eastern Wood Peewee singing
 Bob, Ann and I were the only ones paddling. The rest were either leaving, or birding. Natalie came to watch us take off and then planed to pack up and go to Austin to visit her daughter on the way home. Bill came to run the shuttle for us.  He followed Bob down to the take-out and then brought him back. Then he went back to pack up and wait for me.  He planned to stuff my things in the car for me.  (What a guy!)Finally, around 10:00 A.M., we were ready to do this short paddle -  I think it's about five miles.

Bob helping Ann at the put-in at the low water bridge in the park
We wound through the first chute and then pulled out so Ann could get her foot braces fixed.  After that we were able to paddle for over an hour before we needed a pit stop. We were also stopped several times by low water - the river was the lowest I've ever seen it.  This must be due the the on-going drought in the area.  But we still finished our paddle in about two hours.

River View
Winnie took this picture of me from a high bank near the start of the trip
Bob and view

Low water

Ann by cut bank

Bob struggling across a shallow spot

Some lingering blue-winged teal

Ann gets a drag from Bob

Finding a devil's trumpet along the riverside was a surprise
 But even low, the river was beautiful and we were a little sad to see the bridge.  I was surprised to see a new bridge that we could paddle under and the new parking area for paddlers.   I'm glad to see that more and more rivers are getting paddling trails with more amenities for paddlers.

Ann coming under the new bridge

At the take-out

I didn't take my canoe with me to Bison Range because there is hardly any paddling I can do by myself without running a shuttle.  There are a few lakes but I don't really like lake paddling. So this memory will have to last me until I go on a Boundary Waters Trip in September. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What I Saw From the Auto Tour At National Bison Range, Part 1

Although Friday was supposed to be a rainy day, it dawned clear and I decided to take the auto tour. I thought I'd leave early, but found I hadn't plugged in my camera battery charger correctly so had to wait around for another hour until it charged. By this time it was 7:00 A.M. and the sun was already up. But since we are on the west side of the Mission Mountain Range, we don't get direct sunlight for a while longer.  Clouds were already moving in, sometimes lightly covering the sun, so the light was still beautiful along the first several miles of the tour.

The auto tour road works its way up and down for a while, then goes up steeply through a series of switchbacks.In places, it is near the boundaries of the refuge and we get beautiful views out of the refuge. At the highest point, at the end of High Point Trail, at 4700 feet and some 2000 feet above headquarters, we can see a three hundred sixty degree panorama.

It took me four hours to do the first seven miles of the tour.  Then I mostly just drove home, only stopping for big obvious things. The day got fully cloudy and I lost my light entirely.  But this will be a place I'll go often.  Yesterday, I saw my first lazuli bunting and took a picture of the first orange-crowned warbler I'd seen and heard singing. Both birds breed here along with the willow flycatcher, which I haven't seen yet. The spotted towees were also frequently singing - they just sing "teeeeeaaaaa" rather than the  "Drink your teeaaa" the eastern towhees sing. I saw one Bullock's oriole but more will be showing up.

The tour starts with a right turn from the visitor center parking lot, goes north for a few hundred yards and then turns again and travels east for about a  half mile as it starts to climb slightly.  This gives wonderful views of the refuge, the Rattlesnake Mountain Range, and the Jocko River Valley.

There are some bluebird boxes near the beginning of the tour and we have breeding western and mountain bluebirds using them, as well as tree swallows. I didn't see any of them this day but will go out looking for them soon.

A wildflower I've yet to identify

A long view to the Rattlesnake Mountain Range

View looking north up into the hills of the refuge
Jocko River Valley with the Rattlesnake Mountains and storm clouds behind it
  As the road comes near the east side of the refuge, it makes a sharp turn and travels east along Pauline Creek for a mile or two. This is an intermittent creek, but has lots of little ring-fed pools along it and lots of bushes, including serviceberry and chokecherry, grow along it. So it attracts lots of wildlife and is the place to reliably find the lazuli bunting and the willow flycatcher, as well as Bullock's oriole, spotted towhees  orange crowned warblers, and many other species of birds.  Buffalo are in the far views along here and, when we cross the next cattle guard, they could be near the road.

One of a pair of mule deer bucks sleeping in near Pauline Creek

Storm clouds forming over the Rattlesnake Range

One of the hundred (thousands?) of western meadowlarks the refuge harbors

View of the refuge lands  north of the tour road

South view down to a small pond along Pauline Creek which is hosting a pair of breeding mallards

Beautiful fresh chokecherry blooms

This bull bison was standing next to the road and eating dirt for its salts.

Another beautiful wildflower that is just starting to bloom

An  orange-crowned warbler between songs

A kiting male kestrel shows off his beautiful rust body and blue wings
 The road leaves Pauline creek and starts to climb through a series of switchbacks.  The long views are back to the east and the habitat changes to on of a forest for a very shorty while. I noticed I was running out of time and didn't stop as frequently or as long  here.  But this is the next area I really want to spend more time in.  Right at the edge of this is is the first place you can take a little hike, the quarter-mile long Bitterroot trail. I'll be back just to find all the wildflowers here and to look for bears down in the valleys, or just back in the wooded area.

 This bull liked the forest best

As you climb, there are more and more beautiful long views

View of  one of the Rattlesnake Mountains from high up

A long view way down into a valley from near Bitterroot trail

Another little, yet unknown, wildflower
One of the larkspurs
By now, I officially thought of myself as just driving back but I had to stop a few times.  The first big stop was at the place where High Point Trail intersects the road.  The only bathrooms are here. And the view is across to the Mission Mountains.  The sun was almost completely blocked by clouds, but occasionally a few rays made it out. From this point on, the trail goes downhill for the most part and sometimes very steeply. The next pictures are from these areas.

View at the High Point Trail Interpretative Area

This pronghorn male was a few miles away from the rest who mostly like the open plains  further down

A pair of Brewer's Blackbirds - the female is collecting nest material
All of these pictures were taken in the first eight miles of the auto tour.  The rest is both downhill and thrugh more plains until it runs along Mission Creek where there is another riparian area.  The deer - white and mule are found along tere as are elk, and sometimes bear and bull bison, unless the main herd is in this pasture. I got here two days before the entire  auto tour opened, so had only driven the last part of it, which is two-way during the winter.  I wrote about that evening drive here